By Dominique Gabriel G. Bañaga
The Bacolod City Regional Trial Court (RTC) – Branch 42 granted the “motions to quash the search warrants and suppress evidence” filed by six activists arrested for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
According to the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) who are representing the six, the decision, in effect, is a step to acquit the accused Karina Mae De La Cerna and Cherryl Catalogo, John Milton Lozande, Proseso Quiatchon, Albert De La Cerna and Noli Rosales.
The accused were arrested after a joint operation by the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office and the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) of the Philippine Army served the search warrants issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert of RTC Quezon City in the office of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Barangay Bata, Bacolod City on October 31, 2019.
They were charged for violating the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act (RA 10591) although the accused maintained that the ammunition and firearms allegedly recovered at the premises of their office were “planted” by the raiding team.
The law enforcement authorities at that time revealed that they raided the office as it was allegedly being used as a recruitment facility by the New People’s Army (NPA), an allegation which was denied by the activists.
The NUPL questioned the validity of the search warrants issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert.
In her resolution dated February 18 but received March 8, Judge Ana Celeste Bernad, acting presiding judge of RTC – Branch 42, based her decision to quash the search warrants on the ocular inspection of the place done on January 29.
The court takes note that while the search warrant identifies the place as No. 122 Ilang-Ilang Street, Brgy. Bata, Bacolod City, the address, however, upon entry, comprised three structures that can be seen inside the compound containing a lot area of 375 square meters.
Hence, the warrant “failed to describe the place with particularity for the manifest intention thereof is that the search shall be confined strictly to the place so described.”
The court declares that the case constitutes an “infringement of the constitutional requirement that a search warrant shall particularly describe the place to be searched as stated under Section 2, Article II of the 1987 Constitution.”
It further resolved that in view of the violation of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, any evidence obtained such as the firearms and other materials seized from the premises shall thus be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
Evidence obtained in illegal search and arrests like the firearms and explosives in this instance – “fruits of the poisonous tree” that must be excluded in evidence.
The latest decision of the RTC overturns the presumption of regularity that the search warrant issued by Judge Burgos-Villavert “satisfied the constitutional requirement of definiteness.”
“It further disproves the competence and integrity of the Quezon City RTC judge as well as other similar judges who have arbitrarily issued search warrants against known activists and members of caused-oriented organizations,”the NUPL claimed in their statement.
Reached for comment over the NUPL’s press release, 3ID spokesperson, Major Cenon Pancito III, said they have yet to receive a copy of the Bacolod RTC’s decision.
However, Pancito said they will consult with their legal team once they have received the copy of the decision, and they may file a motion for reconsideration for the case./DGB, WDJ